Commedia all’italiana Il Boom (1963), directed by the prolific Vittorio De Sica – best known for his much-lauded work Bicycle Thieves (1948) – is a gentle comedy with some admirable qualities that oozes Italian charm. Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) is down on his luck financially, despite post-war Italy’s economic boom. A lifestyle beyond his means and a wife with a taste for the luxurious has pushed Giovanni to desperate measures, whereby a wealthy couple offer him a high price for one of his eyes.
Despite this rather outrageous plot mechanism, the story unfolds well enough, carried by an intriguing central performance from Sordi. Sordi can be best understood by British audiences as Italy’s answer to Peter Sellers (an actor that the director, De Sica, worked with on occasion), and as a comic actor he is tremendously captivating, inspiring both gleeful smiles and sorrowful sympathy.
Giovanni’s situation is both comic and tragic, as he moves amongst people in his middle-class business circle searching for money. Equally as tragic is the precarious relationship between Giovanni and his wife Silvia (played by the beautiful Gianna Maria Canale), which exists only as long as Giovanni can provide the lifestyle she is acquainted to. These performances, along with the film’s toe-tapping soundtrack (which includes Chubby Checkers Let’s Twist Again), make for an amusing and stylish comedy.
Despite its charms, Il Boom is often decidedly middling due to its sometimes awkward editing, particularly prevalent in the clumsy opening credits sequence. What’s more, the second half of the film is certainly the more entertaining of the two, with the first half simply functioning as a preamble to establish the lifestyle of the central characters and Giovanni’s precarious financial situation.
The noteworthy performances and enjoyable backdrop of Rome lend Il Boom a certain charm, yet there are ultimately much finer – and ultimately more worthy – examples of De Sica’s work to be enjoyed, such as the aforementioned Bicycle Thieves or 1952 film Umberto D.